6 Steps to Peace
By Grace Dubery, December, 2016
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. — Buddha
You know that feeling — where the world around us may seem at times to be whirling out of control. It feels like too much or not enough. The earth quakes as we walk, and the path feels muddied. In those moments we may wait for something divine or someone objective to tell us or give us something to regain control. But, at its heart, the path to freedom from chaos is ours and only ours. It is through conscious choices that we can create our own path to joy, happiness, and peace.
In the moments where I feel myself enduring, resisting, or seeking answers to questions I didn’t even know I had, there are practices I come back to. Each time I am amazed by their resonance.
Accept what is
There is only so much we can affect. And therefore we must know the boundaries between what we can and cannot change. Accepting is the path to letting go of our mountain of stress and anxiety. It is, in many ways, the most simple of exercises to do, like tadasana. Standing in tadasana, or mountain pose, I center myself, feeling the strength and structure of a mountain, but accepting the volatility of the elements. I consider that thing that I cannot do or control, and I “shrug” — I literally shrug, and the weight I carry lifts off my shoulders.
Asana helps me reconnect with my body and quiet mental chatter. How many times have you stepped onto your yoga mat thinking you’re not going to be able to get through your first five minutes of practice, only to arise from savasana with a sense of lightness and a brand new perspective? When we focus our mind on the physical practice of asana, the intensity of mental distractions is greatly diminished. In our practice we have an opportunity to replace all the noise with the silence of integrating our body and mind.
The quieting influence of asana is deepened when we link our postures or movements to our breath. When movement and breath are coordinated, distracting thoughts become less intrusive.
As an exercise in mindfulness, the next time you walk, try to coordinate every step you take with every breath. On an inhalation, you take one step, and on an exhalation you take another. Walk/breathe as fast or as slow as you want. For greater benefit and enjoyment, try it in a park.
Maintaining a meditation practice will change your life. Our minds are filled with thoughts pulling us in all directions, oftentimes opposing. We are so burdened by our own thoughts that we often find ourselves incapacitated. When I have a lot on my mind, I give myself space to close my eyes and clear my mind completely. What’s most important will eventually surface, while the rest will just float away. Try it — you might be surprised at how a few minutes each day will help you find greater peace.
Spend time in nature
Spend time in a park or by the water. Observe a tree in its imposing stillness, while a breeze blows through its leaves. Even in the dead of winter you can walk outside and find truth and life if you just wait for it, and watch. In summer, sit yourself under a big tree and spend some time observing your breath and absorbing the earth’s pulse beneath you.
Mother Theresa said, “Peace begins with a smile.” The fact is that whenever we smile or laugh, we are free from stress and negativity. Tension or softness in our facial expressions is connected to tension or softness in our nervous system. A student I know walks everywhere with a smile on her face. One time I saw her walking alone down street towards class with the biggest smile on her face. Later she told me that smiling is a practice she cultivates every day. Not only does she feel happier when she smiles, but she inspires me (and I’m sure others) to feel the same. Smiling is contagious.
Appreciate life and those in it
We can’t find peace if we spend our lives consumed by our own problems and needs. An act of kindness towards others, whether a friend or a stranger, only helps cement our own sense of inner peace. I once heard a teacher say that when he found himself consumed by self-involvement, he would ask the question, “How can I be of service?” This simple exercise takes us right out of ourselves and broadens our own perspective on life. There is a great sense of peace and purpose when we care about other people instead of focusing only on our own world.
In every spiritual tradition it is believed that peace must exist in one’s own heart before it can exist in the outer world. I think each of us has a great responsibility in contributing to that, starting with ourselves.